SMDC History: ARGMA opens with a blast

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianOctober 15, 2015

SMDC History: ARGMA opens with a blast
Pictured, from left, are Maj. Gen. August Schomburg, Senator John Sparkman and Col. John Zierdt with a ceremonial key to the new headquarters. Zierdt became the Army's first project manager when he headed the Nike-Zeus antimissile project. In 1967, Z... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Personnel with the Army Rocket and Guided Missile Agency, or ARGMA, ensured that the dedication ceremony for their new headquarters, Building 5250 on Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, would be memorable.

Maj. E.W. Kreisher and his committee planned a day of activities which involved the entire Redstone Arsenal for this Oct. 15, 1960 event.

ARGMA's first open house brought an estimated 15,000 visitors from across the South, to include Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi. Military police reported a "steady procession through the Arsenal gates throughout the day."

The new multimillion dollar facility, which was open for tours, consolidated 1,300 ARGMA employees, previously dispersed across the arsenal and downtown Huntsville. The three, three-story buildings would house the industrial operations staff (engineers, scientists and technicians) and headquarters personnel in one complex.

The day began with the formal dedication of the new facility on Martin Road at 10 a.m. with delegations of national and local dignitaries including Senator John Sparkman (D-Alabama) and Representative Robert "Bob" Jones (D-Alabama).

Col. John G. Zierdt, ARGMA commander, welcomed the audience and introduced the keynote speaker for the festivities, Maj. Gen. August Schomberg, commander, U.S. Army Ordnance and Missile Command, or AOMC.

Following his remarks, Schomberg pushed a button which triggered the launch of a model Nike Zeus anti-missile missile. The missile traveled along a wire to intercept an "attacking" missile, a Jupiter model. As they hit, the models burst into flames effectively cutting the ribbon for the new headquarters.

On display behind the speakers, dwarfing the stage, was a full size Nike Zeus missile, representing ARGMA's major missile development program. The missile was but one of more than 90 displays and exhibits provided for the event; a collection described as one of the largest displays of Army missiles ever assembled.

A telephone listening post, constructed by Western Electric Company, replaced traditional loudspeakers and successfully provided recorded messages on the various missiles on display.

Army busses provided guided tours of the 40,000 acre installation. In addition to static displays, visitors to the ARGMA ranges enjoyed demonstrations of live launches with wire-guided anti-tank missiles and small free-flight rockets and the earth shuddering solid propellant rocket motors in tie down tests.

Teachers and students of the Ordnance Guided Missile School had Nike-Hercules and Hawk batteries in full operations. A popular stop for many of the children was the opportunity to use a mobile shooting gallery.

Developed by Convair, prime contractor for the Redeye anti-aircraft guided missiles, visitors had an opportunity to operate the Redeye launcher aiming at model airplanes which flew through the gallery.

The day ended with a dance for ARGMA employees and their families held at the Fort Raymond W. Jones Armory on South Memorial Parkway. Tickets to the dance were $1.25 per person.

As a side note, Schomburg commanded AOMC, which was located on Redstone Arsenal and was established March 31, 1958. In addition to ARGMA and Redstone Arsenal, AOMC was composed of several subordinate organizations the Army Ballistic Missile Agency or ABMA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and White Sands Missile Range.

With the 1960 transfer of space related rockets (e.g. the Redstone and Jupiter C) and ABMA personnel, the Werner Von Braun team, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, AOMC underwent a realignment.

ARGMA oversaw air and space defense missile systems and battlefield guided weapons. It was therefore "responsible for all Army missiles which [maneuvered] after firing either in response to self-contained guidance systems or from signals from ground control stations." These included Nike Zeus, Nike Hercules, Hawk, Redeye, Mauler, Lacrosse, Shillelagh and target missile systems, except for Zeus targets, among others.

ABMA meanwhile assumed responsibility for pre-programmed/surface-to surface missiles or "Army missiles which [followed] pre-set trajectories after firing." These projects included the Sergeant, Corporal, Little John, Honest John and the Light Anti-tank Weapon, among others.

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